Throwback Thursday: Five Russian jokes about rigged elections

Last night’s debate stirred up memories from my "past life." In two of the most spirited exchanges, Hillary Clinton depicted Donald Trump as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential "puppet," and Trump suggested the "corrupt media" and millions of people who don’t belong on the voter rolls could steal the election.

Large scale voter fraud has been more than a losing candidate’s fantasy in Russia. Observers have documented stuffed ballot boxes and other methods of undermining opposition candidates.

Dark political humor shone a light on some of those flaws in Russia’s early post-Soviet elections.

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Blurring the lines between news reports and press releases

The Des Moines Register ran a lead editorial two weeks ago about "Blurring the lines between news and public relations" in Iowa’s third-largest city:

But rather than create a website to issue press releases or connect directly to the public, the city of Davenport went a step further, creating a site called Davenport Today and packaging the information as if it was independently produced journalism rather than information crafted and disseminated by the same public entity that was being “covered.”

[…] From the outset, Davenport Today was criticized for being nothing more than a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine — which it was. That meant all of the information it shared with the public, no matter how solid, was tainted in the eyes of some readers. Even the articles that appeared to present an unvarnished look at city operations were viewed as self-serving since they emanated from City Hall itself.

At least the now-defunct Davenport Today site openly published material authored by official sources.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette ran a barely-rewritten Iowa State University press release under reporters’ bylines.

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Weekend open thread: Trump detractors, Trump defenders

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Des Moines Register’s Kyle Munson published an excellent profile of Iowa Republican operative David Kochel and his battle with leukemia. I enclose excerpts below, but do click through to read the whole piece. Kochel has worked for numerous Republican candidates, most recently Jeb Bush. He was a senior strategist for Joni Ernst’s Senate campaign in 2013 and 2014 and for Mitt Romney during the last presidential election cycle.

Kochel has been on the #NeverTrump train for months—an anomaly in Iowa circles, where most well-known Republicans have fallen in line behind the nominee. Yet around the country, a stunning number of GOP elected officials, commentators, or former staffers have said they will not vote for Trump under any circumstances.

Last month, Tara Golshan and Sarah Frostenson compiled a list of more than 100 #NeverTrump Republicans, and 50 former national security officials from GOP administrations signed a letter warning that Trump "lacks the character, values and experience" to be president and "would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being."

Several newspapers that had endorsed GOP presidential nominees for decades have rejected Trump, most recently the New Hampshire Union Leader, which called Trump "a liar, a bully, a buffoon."

All those traits were on display this past week, when Trump tried to blame Hillary Clinton for starting the "birther" movement, called for Secret Service agents protecting Clinton to disarm and "see what happens to her," and went off script during a rally to complain about a mosquito.

On the plus side for Trump, the media’s renewed focus on the Republican candidate’s contributions to birtherism kept devastating scoops by Kurt Eichenwald and David Fahrenthold from getting much traction this week. Excerpts from Eichenwald’s cover story for Newsweek are after the jump.

Meanwhile, pathetic lackey and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza took to Twitter to defend Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who "unlike someone else we know—LOVES his country & FIGHTS for its interests." When a commenter pointed out that D’Souza "would be dead" if he were in Russia and criticized the president, D’Souza countered that opposition figure Garry Kasparov "is a public critic of Putin & very much alive." The former world chess champion posted a priceless response: "Have you noticed I live in New York now? Stop spitting on the graves of Putin’s victims with your dictator worship." Kasparov added a few minutes later, "If you can’t articulate criticism of Hillary Clinton or Obama without praising a brutal dictator, you’re incompetent & should just shut up."

It wasn’t for nothing some called D’Souza "Distort D’Newsa" when he became a nationally-known flame-thrower during the 1980s.

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3 ways Matt Lauer failed to press Donald Trump on his Russian entanglements

Donald Trump’s potential to be unduly influenced by Russian President Vladimir Putin has been worrying me for some time, so my head nearly exploded when I watched NBC’s Matt Lauer question Trump about Putin during last night’s "Commander-in-Chief forum."

Other commentators have already noted how Lauer interrupted Hillary Clinton repeatedly but let Trump get away with long-winded non-responses, didn’t follow up when Trump lied (again) about supposedly having opposed the war in Iraq and military intervention in Libya, and didn’t mention controversial Trump statements of obvious relevance to an audience of veterans.

Lauer also flubbed a perfect chance to scrutinize Trump’s Russia connections.

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Thoughts on Gary Johnson's Des Moines rally and Iowa prospects

Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson made his first Iowa campaign stop this year over the holiday weekend. His September 3 rally in Des Moines attracted hundreds of people, making it possibly the largest Libertarian event in Iowa history. You can watch his full speech at C-SPAN or Caffeinated Thoughts.

Johnson will qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and is consistently polling far better than the Green Party’s Jill Stein, the only other minor-party candidate routinely included in public opinion surveys. I continue to hear the Libertarian’s radio ads on various Des Moines-based stations and have seen pro-Johnson television commercials by the Purple PAC on some cable networks.

The four most recent Iowa polls measured Johnson’s support at 8 percent (Emerson College), 12 percent (Quinnipiac), 6 percent (Suffolk), and 12 percent (Marist). Polls have historically overstated support for third-party candidates. Nevertheless, if the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remains very close here, even a 2-3 percent showing for Johnson could determine who wins Iowa’s six electoral votes.

Though I wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s rally, listening to Johnson’s stump speech reinforced my view that he is on track to outperform all previous Libertarian presidential candidates in Iowa by a considerable margin.

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Patty Judge, in new tv ads: "Washington changed Chuck"

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Patty Judge took the fight to 36-year Senator Chuck Grassley in her campaign’s first two general election television commercials, launched on Tuesday. Both 30-second spots assert that Grassley has "changed" during his long tenure in Washington. One spot features Judge delivering the message alongside a cardboard cutout of the incumbent. A string of "ordinary Iowans" question the cardboard Grassley during the other ad. Scroll down for videos and transcripts.

Grassley hasn’t run any commercials since the two ads his campaign aired before the June primary, which Bleeding Heartland analyzed here and here. I’m surprised he didn’t prepare a spot to run during the Rio Olympics, after reporting more than $1.2 million in contributions during the second quarter and nearly $6 million cash on hand as of June 30. Judge’s campaign raised $347,707 during the second quarter and had only $228,292 cash on hand at the end of June.

Three of the four Iowa polls released this month showed Grassley’s support barely above 50 percent; Judge was running 9 or 10 points behind. The most recent survey, conducted by CBS/YouGov, found Grassley leading Judge by only 45 percent to 38 percent. An incumbent polling below 50 percent traditionally signals an opening for the challenger.

But contrary to KCRG’s misleading headline and write-up, a 45-38 lead is not a "statistical tie." The margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent in CBS/YouGov’s poll means that assuming professional sampling methods, there’s a 95 percent chance that Grassley’s support is between 41 and 49 percent, and that Judge’s support is between 34 and 42 percent. In other words, Grassley is extremely likely to be ahead if CBS/YouGov’s respondents are representative of the likely voter universe. He’s just not dominating the race by the kind of margins he’s enjoyed over previous Democratic opponents.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble reviewed data from earlier re-election campaigns pointing to Grassley’s strong performance among no-party voters, as well as his "crossover appeal" for thousands of Iowa Democrats.

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